a wife, a maid, a robot, a secretary

Sandra Tsing Loh is known for her controversial musings on marriage (this Atlantic article recommends divorce, and makes middle class intellectuals uncomfortable). Her most recent discussion on the subject appeared in the NYT op-ed section this Sunday, on the heels of an incredibly well-covered study “that found that the proportion of American marriages in which the wife makes more money rose to 22 percent in 2007 from 4 percent in 1970”.

While she feigns respect for the homemaker by suggesting that it is a respectable task, her admiration does not last long. “With 21st-century technology, it’s a straightforward matter to run a modern home. Sheep don’t need to be sheared; the wash is not done on a board by the creek; nothing needs canning, because we have Costco. Even someone who works 40 hours a week can keep a home standing, and food in the fridge, by himself.”

She then goes on to discuss how difficult, tedious, and time-consuming it is to divide the chores. Not DO the chores, divide them. And then, with a gesture to a well-known satirical article from the first issue of Ms., she says she wants a wife.

Here is the thing. I can understand that Tsing Loh wants a wife, because I basically have one. And it rules. My partner and I don’t stress that much about chores because we both have our things that we do, and we get them done. If someone feels worked up about too many loads of dishes, the grievance is aired, corrected, and then we make out. Just kidding. Well, sort of.

This isn’t the first time I have seen this argument out there in the media. It seems like people are really struggling with the task of dividing chores up. Now that more women are making more money than men, it is becoming even more of a problem because income equality is asking us to question (again) why there isn’t household work equality.

But I kind of have to say, why is it so hard? I don’t doubt that it is, but I guess I just don’t really understand. Are men shirking their duties so much that it is literally more time consuming to make a chore wheel than to do the chores?

Several people have commented about how what Tsing Loh wants isn’t a wife, but a maid, a secretary, or a robot. Which is true. I think we would all like a maid, a secretary, and a robot. But, I think the real trouble that Tsing Loh brings to light in her article (roundabout though it may be), is that household work isn’t valued, economically or otherwise. The “Art of the Wife” has disappeared, she says. Good, I say, I don’t want that gendered BS anyway. But how about the “Art of the Household”? I’m pretty into that. Lets celebrate our home cooks and gracious hosts, whatever gender they might be.

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January 2010
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